Free Palestine protest, Westminster London 6th January 2024 Free Palestine protest, Westminster London 6th January 2024. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Today saw shoddy and disgraceful manoeuvres in parliament to save Starmer from a major rebellion, and weaken the SNP’s ceasefire motion, argues John Westmoreland

The verdict of the BBC’s Live News programme has described the debate on a ceasefire in Gaza as ‘sheer chaos’. The energy, scale and persistence of Palestine solidarity demonstrations have found a way into the halls of Westminster and shaken them to their foundations.

A pretty hard-hitting motion from the SNP that called for an immediate ceasefire, and decried the ‘collective punishment’ being inflicted on the population of Gaza by Israel, was likely to cause a minority of Labour MPs to refuse the whip and vote with the SNP. The motion made clear that it was addressing the concerns of seventy-five per cent of the British population who are demanding a ceasefire.

A Labour rebellion would have damaged Starmer and eroded Labour’s tacit support for Israeli genocide. The amendment had ‘save Starmer’ stamped through it like a stick of rock. And there is little doubt that Labour approached the Speaker of the House to help them out.

In an unprecedented break with convention, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle took Labour’s amendment to the SNP’s motion, when the protocol dictates that he should only accept the amendment offered by the government. Hoyle clearly did this because, without a Labour amendment, both left-wing and besieged and frightened Labour MPs would break ranks and vote with the SNP. Some left-wing MPs had rightly condemned the amendment as so hedged with caveats that it was obviously meant to enfeeble the SNP motion and provide cover for continuing Israeli aggression.

The result of Hoyle’s breach of convention has been a huge constitutional row in which SNP and Tory MPs temporarily walked out of the Commons in protest. The SNP have rightly accused Hoyle of turning the SNP’s day of opposition into Labour’s day.

The mother of all parliaments indeed! These shenanigans bring shame on Starmer’s Labour and contrast sharply with the courage and tirelessness of the protesters outside. David Lammy moved Labour’s amendment, which was rightly denounced by Diane Abbott among others, as weasel words intended to get Starmer off the hook. The amendment deleted the SNP’s reference to collective punishment of the Palestinians to save Israel from the accusation of breaking international humanitarian law. Israel’s actions were constantly sanitised by references to Hamas terrorism and their 7 October attack. Indeed, the Labour amendment added ‘that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence’, which effectively amounts to calling for Hamas’ surrender before any ceasefire, i.e. no ceasefire at all.

Lammy’s speech was an exercise in deflection and obfuscation. For example, Lammy made a big issue about the SNP motion not calling for a two-state solution, despite the fact that the motion clearly stated that a ceasefire was a requisite for addressing other issues. It was, as Mhairi Black explained, an easily understood concept that did not benefit from further complication.

Lammy’s performance was like watching a game of hide and seek where the word ceasefire popped up momentarily only to disappear again behind more Labour caveats. Yet, Hoyle saved the day. After Tory and SNP MPs stormed out, Labour’s amendment went through with no opposition.

As for the far more important question of a ceasefire, the vote commits the government to nothing. Several MPs called for the ending of arms sales to Israel, but the government is unlikely to take heed. Netanyahu may have nothing to fear from today’s ‘debate’ in parliament, but he does have everything to fear from the international mass movement in solidarity with the Palestinians and against genocide that has reduced the mother of parliaments into a total shit-show.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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